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Artist Sends 99 Sad Critters Down China's 'Dead Pigs' River

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Last spring, 13,000 dead pigs were discovered floating in the Huangpu River, a main water source for Shanghai residents. The artist Cai Guo-Quiang is marking that horrific moment in ecological history by sailing this vintage fishing boat down the same river:

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The Ninth Wave sailing on the Huangpu River by the Bund, Shanghai, 2014. Photo by JJY Photo, courtesy Cai Studio.

Cai's installation, The Ninth Wave, recreates the 1850 painting of the same name. Only instead of tiny people clinging to the ship for succor against the sea's might, Cai has swapped in stuffed animals. There are 99 in all, made to look weather-beaten, "as though seasick from the currents of our time," as the press literature puts it.

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Installation process of The Ninth Wave, Shanghai, China, 2014. Photo by Stephanie Lee, courtesy Cai Studio.

It's still not clear where the dead pigs of Huangpu are coming from (they continue to turn up by the hundreds). Some blame farmers for dumping carcasses so as to avoid the cost of disposing them properly. Another theory revolves around a black market for dead pigs. Whatever the reason, Cai sees the event as symptomatic of a deeper imbalance, a modern clash between people and their environment. The press release draws attention to traditional Chinese thinking on the human longing to return to a "primordial landscape and spiritual homeland."

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Installation process of The Ninth Wave, Shanghai, China, 2014. Photo by Stephanie Lee, courtesy Cai Studio.

The installation comes ahead of an August retrospective at China's first publicly funded contemporary museum, the Power Station of Art. It will be the space's first solo exhibition of a living artist, and will include Cai's seminal work with gunpowder.

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Children sketching The Ninth Wave during tour and workshop with artist Cai Guo-Qiang, Shanghai, China, 2014. Photo by JJY Photo, courtesy Cai Studio.

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